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Ben Klibreck and Bridges Rather Far

PostPosted: Fri Oct 22, 2021 11:26 pm
by The English Alpinist
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Ben Klibreck from near Altnaharra on the A836.

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The 2nd of two bridges.

On the fourth and final day of my mission to the far north, I had lined up what promised to be something of a grand finale to my adventures. Furthermore, it seems to becoming a habit that events yield unexpected discoveries and challenges, which can be rather fine or grim depending on the conditions and the importance of one's misjudgements. Happily, today was the former! I was to do Ben Klibreck, that other Munro of Sutherland, which I anticipated to be a little less scenic than Ben Hope and more of a route march. This was partly because I chose to go up from the Crask Inn, which to my mind offered the 'complete Klibreck experience', crossing the length of ridge from SW to NE. I could come down the common route to gain the A836 a few miles north of the inn, or if time and energy permitted I could drop down into the opposite, Loch Choire side for a beautiful but very long lakeside pull back to Crask. I knew what I wanted to do, on the basis of 'will I ever be here again therefore I need to sample as much as possible', but the distance of over 20 miles was daunting. First things first; just get up there and bag the summit.

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Start (and finish) at Crask Inn.

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Grim in bad weather I should think.

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Quite swampy even in good weather.

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Battle ground.

A fence.

'Acquire the ridge, acquire the ridge' was a mantra that was taking root in my mind these days. It felt like a professional sort of phrase, romanticising the frustration of plunging and staggering through peat territory. I set out confidently, the long expanse of moorland from Crask having an idiot-proof if 'moist' track. But it had to be left at some point, which proved undiscernible to my current talents, resulting in a rough estimate based on contours and a cairn and fence which the map said existed. Up I slogged across nature's own World War One system of trenches, an hour of this stuff being quite enough, so all of Sutherland got a victorious fist-pump from me when I arrived at said cairn. This was pleasingly big and real, but as for the alleged fence, at one time there had been a fence but now the sporadic rotted remnants of it look as though they're something from the Viking age. Another curiosity was continuous sheep or deer prints (my skills as a tracker are not yet developed enough either) which followed its course, occasionally disappearing into boggy pits before re-materializing. Indeed, I resorted to using them as a clue for plotting a way through the most swampy parts, and I think the results were marginally better than depending on my own judgement. It was great to come over a crest and see Klibreck's classic - and dry - pyramidal summit before me.

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Ben Klibreck ahead (Ben Loyal in the far distance).

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The importance of the Marmot cap cannot be overestimated. Nearly there.

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Ben Klibreck 962m (3,156 ft).

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Lightening? Not today anyway.

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The only real danger in these glorious conditions was exhaustion through dehydration and distance, and I'd used up almost all my water. At the summit, I therefore had a choice to make between descending via the direct route which meets the Crask road, or continuing further along the top and descending miles out of my way for the long march by the lochs. As so often, some nourishment (smoked salmon sandwiches) raised body and spirit so well that the spectacular option looked doable after all. There was the prospect of a waterhole - a big one, Loch Choire - no more than two hours away. If I ran out of daylight or energy or both, there was even a hard bed with a roof in the form of an authentic Scottish bothy at the far end of it. So, I strolled onward under azure skies, processing the endless views in every direction. This was surely why I was here, and I contemplated whether it was possible to bottle this feeling, coasting on easy terrain in life-affirming warmth with the joy of simply existing in space and time. I continued to muse on the hoof prints of the flock/herd, for they had appeared again down the other side of the summit, never with any marks to suggest human shepherding. So, these deer (of course they're deer) take themselves on the exact Ben Klibreck ridge route?

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The ridge must go on.

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Down the Meall Eilein spur.

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Crash site (Ben Klibeck behind it).

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RIP Lieutenants Beers and Knight.

Most of the ground north of the summit was comfortable walking, but there were a few sections of filth. I intended to follow the range all the way to the end and descend down 'The Whip', its final spur, to meet the north end of Loch Choire. However, anxiety over water needs, the sight of yet another rather wide col of peat hags down there to cross, and the finiteness of hours in the day prompted not so much a misjudgement but a spot of wishful thinking. In denial of the map, I turned off down the spur prior to Whip, telling myself it was Whip (imho the shape of it fits the description better), but it was in fact a certain Meall Eilein. Lower down this, I came upon a remarkably large cairn, only to discover it was in fact a monument (it had evaded my eyesight on the map) to a Lieutenant Peter Beers and a Lieutenant John Knight who had crashed and died at that wild spot in a Vampire Training Jet in 1955. Complete with rusted remains of the wreck (much more can be found), this was fascinating and poignant stuff, and what a privilege to sample this moment in history with my own eyes. I could only congratulate myself on my 'decision' to descend this way. I have since discovered that some folk make a hobby out of tracking down such sites, and I feel moved to copy a couple such links here...

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Loch Choire.

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Signs of human settlement by Loch Choire.

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Loch Choire.

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Loch Choire, with Klibreck summit in distance (I was on it!).

Water, water everywhere, and fine to drink! I had to earn it, though, as another little session of raw moor-tramping stood between me and the loch, which is the price you pay for not getting the route quite right. In fairness, the same hardship might have faced me whichever way I went down. Not before spooking a stag, and envying the way it loped with ease through the tundra, I had made it! Nothing could stand between me and success now, I reckoned, as it was just a matter of reminding myself that the long trek by the lakes and ultimately over the distant pass (Bealach Easach) was more beautiful than my aches were unpleasant. I heard (near the Loch Choire Boathouse settlement) but never saw one person working and a dog yapping (at me), and from there I was totally alone for hours beside peaceful still waters in one of the most magisterial landscapes I've ever trodden. I was able to counter every muscular twinge by glancing up with pride at the far side of Ben Klibreck, whose 962 metres I could duly tick off on my Munro chart that night. About 90 minutes along the Loch, I declined the inviting bothy, but not before nosing around inside. One day perhaps. But I had no such luxury of choice for the next item on the tour. I came upon a thing that looked like a bridge...

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The 1st of the two bridges.

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Deer prints by Loch Choire.

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A look back from Loch a' Bhealaich to Loch Choire (spot the Bothy).

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On Bealach Easach: a last look back.

'The Bridges of the Lochs' (as I think of them) will abide in my memory every bit as much as Klibreck itself, as of course will my history lesson in post-WW2 flying mishaps. It's conceivable they could still be alive today - they were only 24 and 23 - had they not crashed. Here I am at 53, enjoying the land for its own sake. It makes you think - what I have done with my bonus 30 years? Not enough - but I digress. The bridges - there were two of them - part of me hopes they never replace them with 'safe' versions, such was the romantic appeal of tottering across and viewing the fairly deep water between missing or rotten planks. I hope they can recondition them in some tasteful way to retain the pseudo Viking age feel. Whilst it was easy enough to get across, it would also have been easy to fall in, and I can't see how they can last many more years before something has to be done to keep the route open. Cross I did, and the best thing about finally passing over the rough and swampy Bealach Easach was the view back. Whilst I was keen to get finished to beat nightfall and vampire midges, it was with genuine sadness that I had to wave goodbye to the two lochs. In bagging terms only the damned remote Ben Armine and its fellow Graham give me a reason to ever revisit this distant land, but I hope I shall, if for no other reason than to see the footbridge status of the place.

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Not quite a trackless waste.

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Return to Crask. I've done 22 miles!